Ajay Bhatt, the Minister of State for Tourism and Defense has worn many hats during his working life and has been at the forefront of Uttarakhand politics. Indeed, his career spanning more than four decades is dotted with several achievements. In a free conversation with Anjali Bhatia, he spoke about India’s tourism potential and the highly controversial Agnipath scheme.
You have completed a year as MoS for Tourism and Defence. How do you see your mandate, and the tourism potential of the country?
Tourism has enormous potential in the country. The tourism industry suffered a momentary setback due to the Corona pandemic, but now things are back on track. Whether in Uttarakhand or the North East, you will find plenty of tourists everywhere. And we have strived to ensure that tourists enjoy the best facilities and infrastructure when visiting the country. Whenever we receive a request regarding facilities etc. of a service concerned, we ensure that it is dealt with as soon as possible. Police personnel are also made aware of the care of tourists, and the safety of women is doubly ensured.
What are your priorities ?
As you know, there have been several incidents where human lives have been lost, including those of pilgrims, due to terrorist attacks. There have also been several incidents of terrorist attacks against Amarnath pilgrims. Our priority has been to provide a safe environment for tourism so that people can travel freely anywhere in the country. We have worked diligently to that end. This is a concerted effort of all government departments, military and police to ensure the safety of travelers. The opposition said rivers of blood will flow in Kashmir, but nothing like that happened and today there is a tourist rush in the state. You can see the rivers of development flowing in Kashmir
How do you see the prospects for religious tourism in your home state, Uttarakhand, as it is often called Dev Bhoomi?
Several places in Uttarakhand can be developed as tourist destinations. For example, there is Tirujinarayan where Lord Shiva married Ma Parvati, a flame is always lit and people come here for the marriage of their children. Similarly, if you read the popular book “An Autobiography of a Yogi”, the cave where Mohan Das baba gave “dikhsa” to Gandhiji is in Uttarakhand. Many people visit the site every year. All that remains is to popularize it and build sustainable infrastructure for tourism. There are many other miraculous sites like Patal Bhuvneshwar in Uttarakhand which can be popularized apart from chaar dhaams (four pilgrimage centers for Hindus). And of course you have nature at its best in the state to attract tourists.
What other categories of tourism are you developing – like starting border tourism? What has been the progress on this front?
Indeed, we are trying to develop other types of tourism because today’s tourists want a wide variety and we must respond to this. Not only border tourism, we also work to promote nautical tourism, village tourism, etc. We also launched jungle tourism in which tourists can stay in the jungle on top of the treehouses and get a feel of the jungle. The work is progressing at a very fast pace and very soon you will see it come true.
Is anything being done for basic infrastructure in Uttarakhand?
There has been a phenomenal change in the infrastructure. Previously, during its creation, there were problems, but most of these bottlenecks have been solved. Whether it’s roads, broadband connectivity, electricity or transportation, everything has increased dramatically. Now one could reach Karnprayag by train, which again is a huge improvement in infrastructure.
Many young people in Uttarakhand are opting for careers in the armed forces. Now a new recruitment program, Agnivpath, has been introduced. What is the answer to that and what is your opinion on it?
Agniveer is indeed a great program. It will rejuvenate the army while benefiting young people. The response is great as over seven lakh people applied for 3,000 jobs. Those leaving would receive a lump sum as well as a certificate and arrangements were made for their employment. The 25% who would stay in the army would be the best. So how does this harm the strength of the army? All the rules are the same for everyone and women’s participation has already improved. The opposition should carefully study the project before discrediting it.
You are the leader of Uttarakhand BJP unit. The BJP has been fragmented in the state. How do you see it and what are you going to do to reconcile it?
No, it’s not a divided house. Your information is not correct. We are all working together for the good of the party and the people of Uttarakhand.